A leap of faith: 4th Sunday of Advent

The fourth week of Advent functions as a Grand Pause and allows us to return to the early days of Mary’s pregnancy. The altered time sequence moves us back, in the closing days of this season, to a more contemplative way of being, to roots, to silence, to mystery–all of which have a way of getting sidetracked in the frenzy of preparations for the celebration. The fourth Sunday says again and more emphatically: “Be still. Let what is about to happen sink in.”
Last Sunday, as Church, we celebrated what is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of Joy. We were invited to rejoice for the Lord is in our midst. In today’s liturgy, we see in concrete terms the manifestation of that joy which comes from the presence of the Lord. It is a joy which is first prophesied by Micah in the First Reading. In the Gospel, we see how Mary accepts the message of joy and hurries with haste to her cousin Elizabeth. As I reflect, I think of Mary’s urgency which was the fruit of God’s plan and compare this to the frantic hurrying around that many people are doing during these last 48 hours before Christmas Day. Mary is a woman on a mission, spurred on by love and service. Today so many wander through life aimlessly, without direction and without a sense of meaning. It is so easy to forget the reason for the season.
At Christmas we celebrate life, life which begins in the womb as we are reminded when we are told that the child leaps in the womb of Elizabeth. We do not have the words of Mary's greeting to Elizabeth but we do see how they were greeted by a double reaction: the response of Elizabeth and the leap of John the Baptist in the womb of his mother. John, this baby is alive; he moves. He is a baby not a foetus or a clump of cells.  The baby already has independent action and responds on its own.

Elizabeth responds: “But who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit which overshadowed Mary. Her humility shines through as she acknowledges the profound truth of who Mary is and the gift of the One that she bears. Elizabeth uses the word mother in relation to Mary. She does not say mother-to-be, future mother or potential mother. A mother is only a mother in relationship. To be a mother, there must be a child, and Mary is called mother with this life which is growing within her womb.

In this Gospel, Elizabeth appears to be a secondary character but we see how she is a primary example of wise awareness. She sees and celebrates the presence. This may seem to be a very simple thing but how often does the presence of the Lord elude us? And the presence of His Mother? Part of the meaning of Christmas is that by contemplating the experiences of Jesus and Mary, we learn from them how to say an unqualified and unconditional Yes. Because that is where the real joy and happiness of Christmas lies. All the rest is tinsel!

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